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Heir, Big Spender

With the annual release of the Royal financial reports and the revelation that the renovation of Frogmore Cottage—the home of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex—cost £2.4 million, are the public right to be angry?

Heir, Big Spender
Frogmore Cottage, Windsor, before the £2.4 million renovation. The Rumble©

There is always one day a year where the Royal family collectively hide behind their palace walls, lock the gates and wait patiently for the storm to pass: Royal finance day.

Every year, the Monarchy release their annual reports and accounts pursuant to the Sovereign Grant Act 2011. And every year, there is the usual debate over the spending habits of the Royal Family. However, this time around, the debate is much more hostile than previous years. Why?

First off, the Sovereign Grant is effectually the money taxpayers pay towards the maintaining of the Monarchy, their residences and other areas.

Amongst the "Major Projects in the Year" section of the report the first declaration was the reconfiguration and full refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. At a cost of £2.4 million, paid solely by the British taxpayer, there was universal outrage. Many were surprised at the astronomical number, and that surprise quickly manifested into upset, especially after the revelation that the refurbishment is still ongoing—meaning that the final cost could be much more.

William & Kate Kensington Palace renovations, costing £4.5 million. Getty Images©

It was inevitable that such a large number of taxpayer spending was going to cause controversy. And whilst factually the Frogmore project only costs each individual taxpayer 4p, the optics are pretty damning.

It would be only fair to point out that in 2014, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s resident Apartment 1A received a £4.5 million refurbishment; this was followed by a £1 million roof added to their country bolthole— Amner Hall in Norfolk. The outrage faced four years ago paled in comparison to today. But things have changed drastically since 2014. Britain is within the grips of tightening austerity, Brexit wasn’t even a factor back then, and there weren’t the desperate cries for increased spending on vital services, Police, NHS, etc.

Today, the public, more than ever, are questioning where their taxes are being spent, and on a luxury “cottage” in Windsor for the sixth-in-line to the throne and his family doesn’t seem to fit the bill.

And here lies the difference between 2014 and 2019. William and Catherine will one day become king and queen—an argument which I know may seem tiresome. Harry and Meghan won’t. It truly is as simple as that. Spending millions of pounds renovating an apartment at Kensington may seem the same compared to Frogmore, but it isn’t.

Kensington Palace will eventually become the home and office of Prince William and Princess Catherine of Wales, once Charles ascends to the throne. From then onwards, it will most likely pass to Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, who will in turn use it for their own royal endeavours. It is also worth mentioning that Kensington Palace is the office of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and the Duke and Duchess of Kent.

Simply put, Kensington Palace will remain a royal residence and office space for the foreseeable future. It will serve generations of the Monarchy, whereas Frogmore Cottage serves only as the home of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan. Their office rests within Buckingham Palace. And considering the rumours that the couple are intending on a sabbatical to South Africa, Frogmore could be left empty for many of the ensuing years.

The Duchess of Sussex in New York for her baby shower, estimated to have cost £300,000. PA©

But there is also another factor to the frustration felt by the public. Harry and Meghan were offered Apartment 1 of Kensington Palace—a sprawling 21-room home. Similar to Frogmore, refurbishment was needed. However, at the cost of £1.4 million for a new roof and the work already being signed off to start, many would see it as a cheaper alternative.

It was an alternative the couple would turn down. Why? There is suggestion that the dominating feud between the Cambridge’s and Sussex’s was the main influence. If this is true and Harry and Meghan couldn’t stomach living beside their brother and sister-in-law, then can the public be blamed for feeling utterly annoyed? Why should the taxpayer foot a million-pound bill for an all new refurbished residence all because two brothers can’t get along?

If one aspect is certain when it comes to the Monarchy, and most certainly their spending habits, optics is everything. Sadly, sometimes facts don’t take precedence. How some things look to the public matter more than what is actually happening. Frogmore Cottage is a perfect example of this. Yes, perhaps 4p per person doesn’t actually seem like much, but when Meghan has an estimated fortune worth £5 million and Harry £25 million, suddenly we begin to question why our 4p should be spent on a couple with such immense wealth.

And these damning optics don’t just stop here. Earlier this year, Meghan was heavily criticised for an “ostentatious” baby shower, suggested to have cost £300,000 and more. Once again, factually the Duchess of Sussex’s famous friends footed the bill, but still, the optics alluded to the fact the newest royal was completely out of touch with austerity-suffering Britain. It began the rumblings that Meghan was a modern-day Marie Antoinette, letting the British public eat cake without a care in the world.

In basic terms—it didn’t look good.

Royal Mail portrait of the direct line to the Throne. (L-R) Prince Charles, HM The Queen, Prince George and Prince William. Royal Mail©

It has been no surprise that Meghan’s baby shower, along with her designer clothes and jewelry, has come back with an angry bite. Though surely, shouldn’t the Sussex's household have seen this coming? It was frighteningly obvious that these reports would embolden the taxpayer to ask why their hard-earned cash was funding the sixth-in-line to the throne’s property development project. It was blatantly foreseeable that there would be furious backlash, and the ensuing PR disaster this has turned into could have been wholly avoided. How, you ask?

Firstly, the Sovereign Grant fund has needed major reform for years. Many believe, as do I, that the Monarchy is a wonderful institution that injects a huge cash surplus into the British economy, not at least the unifying pride the Queen generates all by herself. But should so many differing members of the Royal Family be reaping the benefits of a grant with the taxpaying public as the main investors? I would strongly argue no.

I truly believe that the Sovereign Grant should only substitute the costs of the Monarch, the heir to the throne and the second in line—put simply, those in direct line to the “top job.” In this case, that would mean The Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William. It may seem harsh, but most European royal families work this way. With less members having access to the golden treasure chest, it would be easier for taxpayers to determine where their money is being spent.

Furthermore, these three royal individuals will come to shape the UK in the ensuing decades. They will define a role which is arguably the most powerful in the land. There decisions will impact the British people, the country's identity and the two-billion-plus population throughout the Commonwealth. That generous surplus I mentioned earlier is because of the Queen, and it will eventually fall to Charles and William.

The harsh reality is that within that £2.4 million spent on Frogmore Cottage, what do the British public get back? The answer is a resounding nothing. There is no benefit whatsoever.

Kensington Palace, 2019. HRP©

Kensington Palace is open to the public; it is the official residence to a future king and queen. It has historic significance spanning the past, present and future. The same could be said for Clarence House and most certainly Buckingham Palace. With these properties, the British public can physically see where their money is going. We can’t with Frogmore Cottage.

Many have argued that Harry and Meghan have been singled out unfairly, and to an extent, I can agree. The spending of the entire Royal family has increased by 40%, not just the Sussex’s. But there has been another question in relation to this. Why should the public pay for every member of the Monarchy?

The unfortunate truth is, Harry is sixth-in-line to the throne, a man with extraordinary wealth and privilege. He is also someone who has championed the down-trodden and the poorest in society, many of whom are former veterans. His work has been truly admirable. But when the government recently spent £2.5 million on a new health centre specifically for army veterans suffering from PTSD, it does vividly showcase where the money spent on his “cottage” could’ve been elsewhere invested.

And when the public are consistently told that “there isn’t enough money” to fund the devastating shortage of police, resulting in an increase in knife crime, or a greater investment in the NHS, then suddenly £2.4 million can be invested into Frogmore Cottage, it does leave the public wondering which class is favoured more.

I do believe that the Monarchy is worth its weight in gold. But I also feel that the release of the Royal finances, and the resultant anger, should focus the spending habits of the Royal family. If not, and we continue to see terrific amounts of cash being thrown at “cottages” and the Monarchy effectively riding down the Mall singing “Hey, Big Spender,” then I truly do worry for the future.

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Jonathan Reed
Jonathan Reed
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